Arsenic could be mistaken for
flour in the bread, sugar dissolved
at the bottom of a cup. A little
laudanum for the baby who cries
and cries, and always grows
into the same as them— no matter
the song she sings or how
many nights she nurses him
to sleep. A sprinkling of strychnine
in the beans, a teaspoon
of bedbug poison as practice.
What a woman could do alone
in the kitchen when no one was
looking. A quick risk, sleight
of hand. But she’d planned this
for months. Years really. Since
that first time she knew her worth
in this world. Both nothing and
so much at once. Her chin too
defiant, her hand trembling
when she ladled the clear gravy
soup she worked at day and night.
Skimming the fat, seasoning it
just so. Or before that— when
she couldn’t remember because
she knew to bury it without ever
being told. Like she knew the guns
would always be locked up, a fire
could be snuffed out in time.
The oven always too damned hot
for anyone but her and the Lord.
And the Lord knew full well
why she had to. Else He wouldn’t
have made the powder so white
or her broth taste so good.